How Far Back Does a Criminal Background Check Go? Arrests, Charges

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Background Checks | September 13, 2022

Man with recent arrest searches filing cabinet with background check records to see how far back does a criminal background check go, while blue magnifying glass looks at an employer criminal background check document on the left examined in further detail, and calendar pages shuffling on the right to show 10 year background check states and how far back background checks go.

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Background checks are intimidating enough, and with dozens of federal and state laws to consider, trying to figure out how far back does a criminal background check go can be difficult.

What makes things even worse is many states have laws that only apply to convictions and other laws that deal with how pending charges are reported as well.

That’s why knowing how far back does a criminal background check go for a specific criminal incident can help people determine whether their background check will show arrests, charges, and charges without conviction.

This guide can help.

How Far Back Does a Criminal Background Check Go for Arrests?

There are both federal and state laws to consider when trying to figure out how far back does a criminal background check go. Although many people may have heard of the seven year rule or even 10 year background check states, it’s important to understand that there are no federal laws that dictate how far back a criminal background check can go.

This can be disappointing for many people, however, there are several states that have specific laws regarding how far back employment background checks can go when reporting convictions.

The Seven Year Rule

Many people have heard mention of both the 7-year rule and the 10- year rule. As mentioned, these laws only apply to a few states, however, a typical background check will only go back about 7 years and sometimes ten, depending on specific circumstances.

This is not necessarily due to specific laws, instead, this is more of an industry standard among background check companies. Regardless, many states do allow for criminal social security background checks to go back indefinitely.

States that follow the seven-year rule with exceptions are:

The list of 7 year states is rather short, but state laws that help protect those with criminal charges and help them find employment and felon-friendly apartments are becoming more and more common.

The practice of reporting an individual’s criminal history information from more than 10 years ago is exceedingly rare, despite its legality. This is more common in jobs in fields such as law enforcement, or jobs that deal with vulnerable groups.

It is also common for jobs with above-average salaries, such as corporate-level positions. However, individuals who have a criminal conviction from 15 years ago or more, often have nothing to worry about for most employment background checks.

Individuals who are worried about getting a criminal background check should also keep in mind that having a criminal record does not automatically disqualify an individual from many jobs. Although certain job fields and industries have federal laws and regulations regarding the automatic disqualification of someone with a criminal record, many jobs will hire on a case-by-case basis.

Laws on Reporting Arrests

When checking to see how far back an old arrest can be reported, things can get even more tricky.

Arrests are reported the same as convictions, in general. The way most criminal background checks work, whether they are performed by the hiring manager using a DIY method, or by a background check company authorized to conduct employment background checks, means that all criminal history will be reported.

Background checks are performed using public information such as police records, court documents, inmate and offender registries, and more. This means any public record that has the name of the individual on it will be reported, including arrests, warrants, misdemeanors, felonies, and others, regardless of conviction.

There are exceptions to this however, in particular, California does not allow arrests to be reported as part of a criminal background check unless that arrest ultimately results in a conviction. However, it’s important to realize that a background check for a government job will include them.

Screenshot of legal code for how far back does a criminal background check for charges on the fair employment and housing law.

Reporting Dropped Charges on Background Checks

Reporting arrests that didn’t lead to convictions, as well as other criminal history information such as dropped charges, is another common source of confusion. There are very few federal laws regarding what can and can’t be reported as part of a criminal history background check.

Expunged and sealed records are one of the few distinctions made by the FCRA when it comes to what companies can not report on a background check.

However, arrests that did not lead to convictions, as well as dropped charges, are technically legal to report, according to federal law. Several states have adopted laws that do not allow for certain irrelevant records to be reported to avoid unfair discrimination. (See the state table below)

How Far Back Does a Criminal Background Check Go for Charges?

Understanding the laws regarding how far back a criminal background check goes for criminal and civil charges is also confusing. There are no federal laws specifically regarding criminal charges and how they are reported as part of a background check.

The best recourse when doing a criminal background check on yourself is to search both law enforcement and court records to check for charges. Court records will show pending charges, charges that were filed against you, as well as other orders.

Charged But Not Convicted Records

All the states that have laws regarding the 7-year rule will have a 7 year limit for reporting charges, including those that didn’t lead to a conviction.

But, some states have laws specifically regarding charges that were dropped or did not lead to a conviction. For example, Kentucky has state laws that only allow for charges that led to a conviction to be reported. However, there is no lookback limit for reporting these kinds of incidents.

Kentucky screenshot of legal code outlining how far back criminal background checks can and what they can report.

States that have specific laws that prohibit background checks from reporting charges where the individual was found not guilty (Not convicted):

  • Alaska
  • California
  • Indiana
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • New York

Information on Pending Charges

In general, a typical criminal background check will show not just convictions but also pending charges. Similar to the rules regarding how far back a background check can go, there are several states that are the exception to this.

However, the vast majority of states will allow for pending changes to show up on a background check.

In some instances, the pending charges won’t be visible on a background check. For example, if the charges were filed extremely recently, certain kinds of criminal background checks don’t access the most up-to-date databases, so it is possible the charges will be absent.

As with all information that shows up on a criminal background check, an employer being aware of an applicant’s pending charges will not necessarily disqualify the applicant automatically. The hiring process will depend on the discretion of the hiring manager, so pending charges for low-level misdemeanors will be more likely overlooked when compared to pending changes for more serious crimes.

As mentioned, a few states will have specific laws regarding the way background check agencies are able to report pending charges on an individual. Most notably Arkansas and Kentucky have laws that apply.

In the state of Arkansas, only pending felony charges can be reported by a background check agency, so pending misdemeanor charges will not be reported as part of a criminal background check. Some industries do not need to follow this rule, such as law enforcement, but the vast majority abide by it.

Finally, since Kentucky only allows the reporting of criminal charges that resulted in a conviction, pending charges can not be reported until the trial process is complete and a guilty verdict has been reached.

Charges Filed Against You

In general, charges filed against you and warrants will show up on a background check. There are currently no federal laws that prohibit criminal charges, whether or not they resulted in a conviction, from showing up on a background check. However, just like many background check laws, there are a few states that will make an exception to this.

While most states are like California, which allows for all charges to show up on a background check, and even allows for employers to be notified if the charge results in a conviction, other states have laws prohibiting this practice.

Arkansas only allows for felony charges to be reported as part of a background check, and Kentucky only allows convictions to show up on a background check. This means dropped charges and charges that did not end in a conviction can not be reported in Kentucky as part of an employment criminal background check.

Charges are also considered to be “criminal history information,” so states that abide by the 7-year rule will not allow background check agencies to report on criminal charges of any kind that were filed more than 7 years ago.

Finally, although charges, misdemeanors, and pending charges can be reported in most states as part of a background check, many states have laws that do not allow employers to deny an applicant a job due to these charges.

Many of these states, such as Wisconsin, require employers to conduct assessments based on whether or not the criminal history information is relevant to the job duties.

Screenshot of Wisconsin state legislature with yellow arrow pointing to button for statutes on how far back does a criminal background check go in Wisconsin.

Criminal Records Check Limit By State

The following table provides an overview of what crimes can be reported on a background check, for how long.

StateMisdemeanorsFeloniesChargesArrests
How far back does a criminal background check go in Alabama10+ years10+ years10+ years10+ years
How far back does a criminal background check go in Alaska10+ years10+ years10+ years10+ years
How far back does a criminal background check go in Arkansas10+ years10+ years10+ years10+ years
How far back does a criminal background check go in California7 years*7 years7 years7 years
How far back does a criminal background check go in Colorado10+ years10+ years10+ years10+ years
How far back does a criminal background check go in Connecticut10+ years10+ years10+ years10+ years
How far back does a criminal background check go in Delaware10+ years10+ years10+ years10+ years
How far back does a criminal background check go in Florida10+ years10+ years10+ years10+ years
How far back does a criminal background check go in Georgia10+ years10+ years10+ years10+ years
How far back does a criminal background check go in Hawaii10+ years10+ years10+ years10+ years
How far back does a criminal background check go in Idaho10+ years10+ years10+ years10+ years
How far back does a criminal background check go in Illinois10+ years10+ years10+ years10+ years
How far back does a criminal background check go in Indiana10+ years10+ years10+ years10+ years
How far back does a criminal background check go in Iowa10+ years10+ years10+ years10+ years
How far back does a criminal background check go in Kansas7 years7 years7 years7 years
How far back does a criminal background check go in Kentucky10+ years10+ years10+ years**10+ years**
How far back does a criminal background check go in Louisiana10+ years10+ years10+ years10+ years
How far back does a criminal background check go in Maine10+ years10+ years10+ years10+ years
How far back does a criminal background check go in Maryland7 years7 years7 years7 years
How far back does a criminal background check go in Massachusetts7 years7 years7 years7 years
How far back does a criminal background check go in Michigan10+ years10+ years10+ years10+ years
How far back does a criminal background check go in Minnesota10+ years10+ years10+ years10+ years
How far back does a criminal background check go in Mississippi10+ years10+ years10+ years10+ years
How far back does a criminal background check go in Missouri10+ years10+ years10+ years10+ years
How far back does a criminal background check go in Montana7 years7 years7 years7 years
How far back does a criminal background check go in Nebraska10+ years10+ years10+ years10+ years
How far back does a criminal background check go in Nevada7 years7 years7 years7 years
How far back does a criminal background check go in New Hampshire7 years7 years7 years7 years
How far back does a criminal background check go in New Jersey10+ years10+ years10+ years10+ years
How far back does a criminal background check go in New Mexico10+ years10+ years10+ years10+ years
How far back does a criminal background check go in New York7 years7 years7 years7 years
How far back does a criminal background check go in North Carolina10+ years10+ years10+ years10+ years
How far back does a criminal background check go in North Dakota10+ years10+ years10+ years10+ years
How far back does a criminal background check go in Ohio10+ years10+ years10+ years10+ years
How far back does a criminal background check go in Oklahoma10+ years10+ years10+ years10+ years
How far back does a criminal background check go in Oregon10+ years10+ years10+ years10+ years
How far back does a criminal background check go in Pennsylvania10+ years10+ years10+ years10+ years
How far back does a criminal background check go in Rhode Island10+ years10+ years10+ years10+ years
How far back does a criminal background check go in South Carolina10+ years10+ years10+ years10+ years
How far back does a criminal background check go in South Dakota10+ years10+ years10+ years10+ years
How far back does a criminal background check go in Tennessee10+ years10+ years10+ years10+ years
How far back does a criminal background check go in Texas7 years7 years7 years7 years
How far back does a criminal background check go in Utah10+ years10+ years10+ years10+ years
How far back does a criminal background check go in Vermont10+ years10+ years10+ years10+ years
How far back does a criminal background check go in Virginia10+ years10+ years10+ years10+ years
How far back does a criminal background check go in Washington7 years7 years7 years7 years
How far back does a criminal background check go in West Virginia10+ years10+ years10+ years10+ years
How far back does a criminal background check go in Wisconsin10+ years10+ years10+ years10+ years
How far back does a criminal background check go in Wyoming10+ years10+ years10+ years10+ years

*Misdemeanor marijuana convictions can only be reported for two years

** Kentucky only allows arrests and charges to be reported if they resulted in a conviction.

California courts website screenshot showing marijuana conviction relief laws related to how far back a background check can go in California.

What Are 10 Year Background Check States? Criminal History Law

When trying to figure out how far back a criminal background check goes, many individuals will see the term 10-year background check states. These 10-year states are a little bit misunderstood. There are technically no states that have a 10 year limit on a background check. Every state either allows for background checks to go back 7 years or for them to go back indefinitely.

Where the term 10-year background check comes in is for the exceptions that apply to the 7-year states. Each state that follows the 7-year rule will have specific exceptions that allow for background checks to go back to 10 years if the job meets certain criteria. In almost all the states the most common exception is the annual salary of the job.

Most often this number is $75,000 so jobs that are in seven-year states can look at criminal history information on applicants for up to 10 years if the salary is over this threshold. Some states, such as Washington, allow for 10-year background checks for jobs that make as little as $20,000 per year.

Getting a criminal history check can be a nerve-wracking process, especially for individuals who have a criminal record. However, more and more states are creating laws to make the question of “how far back does a criminal background check go?” easier to understand.

Frequently Asked Questions about How Far Back Does a Criminal Background Check Go

How Far Back Does A Federal Background Check Go

There are currently no federal laws regarding how far back a criminal background check can go. So for a typical criminal background check, criminal information will be returned for the individual’s entire life. However, federal background checks will abide by state background check laws. Therefore, individuals who are undergoing a federal background check that reside in a seven year state will only have to worry about criminal history information that was filed in the last 7 years.

Do charges show up in 10 Year Background Check States

10 year background check states are the same as 7 year background check states. The “10 year” refers to the exceptions that allow background checks to go back an additional 3 years in certain circumstances. 10 year background check states can also refer to states that do not have laws regarding how far back a criminal background check can go, as it is common practice in these states to only show criminal history information from the last 10 years. However, this is more of an industry standard for background checks, rather than something that is mandated by state or federal law.

How Far Back Do Employment Background Checks Go

A typical employment background check will go back 7-10 years. However most states allow criminal background checks to go back indefinitely.

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